Nigeria: Electro-funk artist William Onyeabor passes on

William Onyeabor, whose music received renewed attention over the last few years, has passed on. He was 70.

William Onyeabor
William Onyeabor

According to a statement by the record label Luaka Bop, the electronic-funk artist died in his sleep in his Enugu home in Nigeria.

Onyeabor (full name, William Ezechukwu Onyeabor) released nine albums from 1977 and 1985, scoring several hits. He later left the music industry and went into business, establishing food processing company. His music largely disappeared from the local airwaves following his departure from the music scene until Luaka Bop released some of his hit songs on the 2013 album Who is William Onyeabor?

Thereafter the documentary ‘Fantastic Man’, about a foreign crew’s attempt at finding the enigmatic man, was released. Still he remained a mystery to fans around the world.

“William Onyeabor would never speak about himself and for a long time refused any of the many interview requests that came his way," said Luaka Bop in a statement announcing the death. "For an artist that had never performed live in his entire life, he repeatedly, and very sadly, would always decline our invitations to take part in any of the joyous celebrations that were created in his honor."

The statement continued: “Having become Born Again in the latter part of life, he had turned his back on the music from the earlier part of his life.

“As one of the absolutely smartest people we ever encountered—William Onyeabor was always in charge, whatever the situation may be (and even though he was living in a fairly isolated part of rural West Africa). As can be heard in many of his songs, he looked at the world from a bird's eye view. He would watch American, Chinese and European news simultaneously, so he could learn about the different points of view from around the world. In his later years, he was still conducting business as usual. Whenever we visited him in Nigeria, he welcomed us warmly into his home. Whether it be at his palace outside of Enugu or via crackly phone lines to America, he always made us laugh. As is also very evident in his songwriting—another example of his true intellect and originality—he had the greatest sense of humor.”

Onyeabor is survived by his wife, children and four grandchildren.


 

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